A Very Belated Mini Book Review

I was looking through my posts today and found a few drafts of book reviews from last year. I wanted to share this one because I really enjoyed this book!
Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
Rating: Really Good

This is Banana Yoshimoto’s debut work, composed of two novellas that deal with the loss of loved ones. I have read two of her other works – Lizard, a short story collection, and N.P.,  a novel. In my opinion, this is the best translation of her work I have read; although, I didn’t think the other translations were that good, not that I can compare them to the original Japanese text. I am very happy that I kept reading Yoshimoto’s work. With Kitchen, I was finally able to immerse myself in Yoshimoto’s quietness, poetry, and mystical air. I finally got it. This is my favorite work of hers that I have read.

Sailor Moon Book Tag

I haven’t posted in a while; so, I figured the easiest way to get back into this would be to do a tag. I saw the Sailor Moon tag on Youtube and thought it would be fun! I will try to include books I’ve read more recently. Here is the original video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P2-in7h5SY0&feature=youtu.be

Moon: A book that makes you hungry – I’m going to be unimaginative and say The Afternoon Tea Collection by Pamela Clark. Plenty of yummy things to bake in here.

Mercury: A book that features science and technology – 
Alex + Ada by Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn. I’ve only read volume 1 of this comic book series so far, but I really enjoyed it. Alex gets Ada, an AI designed to cater to her client’s every need, after a rough break-up. Alex is lonely and craves a relationship with someone with a personality who actually spends time with him of his own free will. So, he investigates on how to give Ada sentience.

Venus: A book that makes you want to play video gamesAfter Dark by Haruki Murakami. I read this book in 2015 and found it as a recommendation for people who like Persona 4, the video game. It’s an atmospheric book that takes place completely at night, as the title suggests. I think the main reason it was recommended is because of the ability to go into the television.

Mars: A book inspired by mythology or folkloreBeautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoet. This is a graphic novel that gives a classic fairy tale a disturbing twist. Princess Aurora is on the verge of getting engaged to her Prince Charming when the corpse of the girl she’s living in starts decaying. Various small characters come crawling out of the corpse and wreak havoc on each other. It’s completely unsettling, with cute illustrations that makes it even creepier. 

Jupiter: A book that gave you strong feelings – Dracula by Bram Stoker. This is my favorite book I’ve read this year so far and one of my favorite books in general. This is beautifully written, suspenseful, dark, imaginative, and fully developed. I need to read more Gothic literature. 

Saturn: A post apocalyptic book you love – The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster. I think this is the only post apocalyptic work I’ve ever read. It’s a short story that takes place in the future after Earth has stopped being able to support human life. So, everyone lives underground in separate cells where they communicate solely through technology. Sci-fi by E.M. Forster! 

Pluto: A time travel book – As much as I love time travel, I haven’t actually read a time travel book in a long time.  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling was one of my favorite books of the series. I have several time travel books on my to-read list, including A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain,  Kindred by Octavia Butler, and Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, and A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab.

Uranus: A book featuring elemental magic – Again, I haven’t read many of these books, but I did enjoy The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale when I read it many years ago.

Neptune: A book featuring music The Commitments by Roddy Doyle – A fun, light read about about a group of Irish teenagers who form a soul group! Also, Beatlebone by Kevin Barry – Featuring John Lennon and Scream therapy.

Tuxedo Mask: A book with masquerades or hidden identities I don’t think I’ve actually read any of these books, but I saw Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie on a list for these kinds of books. I’m currently reading this books and absolutely loving it. More on this book later.

Rini/Chibi Moon: A favorite middle grade book Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine and Princess Academy by Shannon Hale. 

Luna, Artemis & Diana: A book for animal loversJunji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon and Mu by Junji Ito. Junji Ito is an acclaimed horror mangaka (my favorite of his works is Uzumaki!). The combination of cats and horror-style illustrations is hilarious. All cat lovers need to read this! Totally relatable.

Can you tell that I got lazier as the list went on?

Favorite Books of 2015

In 2015, I read around 40 books. Here are my favorites, in no particular order:

Just Kids by Patti Smith – Sometimes when you love something so much, it can be hard to describe that love. How can I articulate how phenomenal Just Kids is? In this book, Patti Smith eloquently describes her childhood, her long friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe, and their beginnings as artists in New York City. Her writing is fluid and has a distinctive, consistent voice, her own. What struck me was how Patti Smith describes everything in detail; she and Robert were so meticulous about the appearance of their material possessions and their outfits. I was also struck with their devotion to each other; no matter how poor they were, they stuck to each other and focused on their work. This is one of those rare books that made me slow down. I took my time with it; I savored it. I prolonged my reading just so that it wouldn’t end as soon. How to describe this book? It is the poetry of friendship and art. Just Kids is my favorite book read in 2015, and one of my favorite books in general.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde – Everyone knows the basic story. It’s a classic, and it is the most beautifully written book I have ever read. When I found out this is his only novel, it felt like a favorite tv series being canceled after one season. But I will be reading his other work.

Helter-Skelter by Kyoko Okazaki – As mentioned in my review of this manga, this was a re-read for me. Disturbing, erotic, and haunting, this manga chronicles the deterioration of model Liliko’s mental and physical health.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty – In this nonfiction work, Caitlin Doughty writes about her experiences working as a cremator and shares her insights on death. In 2014, I thought a lot about mortality, my own mainly, and this book reassured me that it was okay, and even right, to think about mortality and death. Even though these are serious topics, Caitlin Doughty makes them easily accessible and writes with levity. It’s a “light” read that makes you think. I really enjoyed her discussion of her disappointment with society’s and the death industry’s treatment of bodies. Doughty points out that death is kept hidden in our society: corpses are treated with toxic chemicals and made up to look as living as possible. I also enjoyed her discussion on alternatives to traditional burial and have decided on one of them for my own future funeral. One’s own mortality can be a very unsettling and overwhelming subject, but Doughty opens up the discussion easily and offers us her perspectives as someone who faces death in her everyday job.

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh – This is another book I have already reviewed. I fell in love with Allie Brosh’s crude drawings and absurd humor. Hysterical and very self-aware.

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn – Out of all of the books I read in 2015, this book stressed me out the most. It is not “light” reading, and in fact, it can be very dry. This is one of the most famous books in science. Kuhn writes about the scientific revolutions that occurred throughout history, such as Newton’s laws and Priestley’s discovery of oxygen, and describes how they came about and the consequences of such revolutions. He also discusses how these consequences shape our understanding of science and its history. Here is an attempt at a brief summary of what he writes. He defines scientific revolutions as shifts in paradigms, which are unifying rules that govern scientific inquiry. For example, Newton’s laws of reasoning unify all scientific fields because they provide rules how to conduct scientific inquiry; however, there are also paradigms in specific fields of science, such as Darwin’s theory of evolution via natural selection in the field of biology. A shift in paradigm comes about because of the zeitgeist of the time. Kuhn demonstrates how a shift in paradigm can be very dramatic and research based on the previous paradigm must basically be thrown out. So, older scientists who have spent their life publishing research must quickly adapt to the new paradigm. (Although, my professor pointed out that a paradigm shift in today’s world would probably be much less dramatic and involve integrating elements of the previous paradigm with the new paradigm). This disposal of “useless” research has shaped our understanding of the history of science. Kuhn writes that we are taught to think of scientific history as very linear, one discovery leading to another. As Kuhn illustrates, it is very dramatic, with new paradigms nullifying older paradigms. In school, we only learn about the discoveries that are still relevant. At the end of the essay, Kuhn compares science to Darwin’s theory of evolution. In Darwin’s theory, species adapt over time as a response to their environment; there is no “end goal,” no perfect form they have set out to achieve. Kuhn states that this is similar to science: our inquiry is not necessarily leading us towards a final truth. This is one of the most upsetting and overwhelming statements I have ever read, and in fact, I got so upset, I started stress-eating and was four cookies in when I realized Kuhn is not necessarily right about this. (A thought which was confirmed by my professor). This book profoundly changed my understanding of science.

A Book I Would Wish on My Worst Enemy

Book: Soulless (Parasol Protectorate Series #1)
Author: Gail Carriger
Rating: Terrible

Gail Carriger’s Soulless follows heroine Alexia Tarabotti, a part-Italian, literally soulless spinster living in Victorian London, a society in this book that has fully integrated supernatural beings, such as werewolves and vampires. Being soulless, Alexia has the ability to neutralize supernatural powers by mere touch. The story starts out with Alexia accidentally killing a vampire with her parasol, which sets in motion an investigation of conspiracy. In the meantime, Alexia has Lord Maccon to deal with, a handsome werewolf who can cause quite a scandal…



You could say this book is a combination of Pride and Prejudice and Twilight, if Pride and Prejudice had no substance or wit to it. I didn’t have high expectations for this book. I went in for a light, fun read; so, my expectations were actually pretty low. Somehow, Soulless failed to surpass my already low expectations. The premise seemed interesting enough, but the book was so poorly executed. This book is way, way too long, and as a result, it’s slow and boring. The author was so obviously trying to copy Jane Austen’s writing style, but it just didn’t work. Her writing style was inconsistent, which distracted from the actual plot. Carriger forgoes a more detailed look at the complicated society she has dreamed up and instead spends over half the novel on Alexia and Lord Maccon’s romance, filling pages upon pages with insipid and cliched dialogue. We get it; they have chemistry.  

The dialogue and romance was cheesy and boring, and the humor not-so-humorous. The characters were more like caricatures, with none of Carriger’s depictions scraping beneath the surface. Each character could be described by a handful of words. This is especially seen in her gross characterization of Lord Akeldama, a flamboyant gossipy vampire who is best friends with Alexia. 


The author  relies on cringe-worthy tropes: Heroine is convinced she is unnattractive, despite being beautiful and having a great body. She and her love interest (who happens to be a well-sought after, handsome, wild man – well, werewolf, in power) bicker with each other like an old, married couple and assert their dislike for each other, despite being in love with each other. Both heroine and love interest are stubborn and assertive.


Make it stop. 


I am not a fan of paranormal romance, but I believe that any book, no matter what genre, should be thoughtfully and carefully written and should say something of value. Soulless is neither well-written nor  well-developed enough to contribute anything to its genre. I do not believe Carriger spent enough time developing her characters, plot, or world. Had she done so, the book would have been more concise, less repetitive, and more developed. It could even have been an enjoyable read. 


Despite struggling to finish this book, I did learn something about myself while reading it: I have the potential to be very vindictive. This book was painful to read, but I endured it just so I could write this review. I also couldn’t help but think this book would be a good way to torture someone, someone I really, really disliked. 


The Art of Superficiality: Helter-Skelter by Kyoko Okazaki

“A laugh and a scream are very similar.” 

Rating: Amazing!


Look at the woman above. Something is just not quite right. And it isn’t the smudged mascara under her eye (or is that a bruise?).

Kyoko Okazaki’s Helter-Skelter follows Liliko, a beautiful, high-profile model who becomes jaded emotionally disturbed when faced with competition from a younger model and with the deterioration of her own body.

This is my second time reading this manga, and I love it even more. This manga expertly tells the story of Liliko’s gradual descent into depression, apathy, and madness. To say the artwork is stunning would be inaccurate and reductive. The artwork can be unpolished, disgusting, terrifying, and erotic, embodying the manga’s haunting opening sentence: “A laugh and a scream can sound the same.” Kyoko Okazaki captures the shallow world in which Liliko lives, focusing in on celebrity culture and the pressure to be “beautiful,” that is, slender and proportional. Pressures to be “beautiful” and popular are omnipresent in Helter-Skelter, in the end taking a toll on Liliko’s mental and emotional stability and making her shallow, selfish, sadistic, sad, and lonely. Basically, an awful human being. But one must consider how everyone contributes to her deterioration. Those who built her – “Mama” who manages her career and her plastic surgeons who literally build her a new body – and those who consumed her image. The word “image” here is very important as everything Liliko presents to the world is fake – her face, body, and emotions. Apathy, jealousy, and weariness, gnaw at Liliko until she decides to simply “give the people what they want,” becoming a vacant shell – all exterior, all meaningless. This manga is haunting.

Brosh’s Absurdity, Crude Drawings, and Silly Stories Make for a Side-Splitting Book

Book: Hyperbole and a Half
Author: Allie Brosh
Website: Hyperbole and a Half
Rating: Amazing!

Hilarity and chaos ensue in Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed coping mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened. Allie Brosh uses absurd humor and intentionally crude drawings to dramatize stories ranging from her uncooperative dogs, an unruly goose, the mischief she caused as a child, to depression. To get a sense of the type of humor in this book, one need only look at the back cover, in which Brosh writes how she is not “sneaky” enough to write a synopsis and praise of the book in third-person (“…some might say the book is full of stories…”).
       I was hesitant to read this book, even after reading all of the praise and there is a lot of praise (alas, Alot is absent in this book). But that praise is well-founded; Brosh’s stories shine with absurdity, hilarity, insight, and self-awareness. I didn’t think I would be impressed with such childish drawings, but its that very characteristic that makes the drawings so hilarious! Her intentionally immature drawings enhance the written narrative, making the story sillier and more absurd. Just look at drawings of herself, with her pony tail sticking up like a shark fin, makes me burst me into laughter! Her drawings also make her comedy more whimsical and, of course, childlike, allowing us to make sense of the thought processes of the simple dog, the helper dog, her five-year-old self, and her brain on depression.

This book had me laughing out loud! I don’t often do this with books I borrow from the library, but I’m going to have to buy this book. I know I’ll be reading it again. If you love absurd humor, read this book!
       
Don’t forget to check out Allie Brosh’s blog!

Favorite Books of 2014

The books listed below are the ones that impacted me the most. They are not in any particular order.


Poetry


The Wild Iris by Louis Gluck – This is a collection of poetry and was the first collection of poetry by Louis Gluck that I read. As the title might suggest, this poetry collection used a lot of flower imagery. Stunning and beautiful. 

Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton – At this point, I think I’ve read all of Lucille Clifton’s published poems. Her writing style is deceivingly simple: not that many words on the page, but a lot of depth to those words. Through her poems, she explores themes of her black heritage, being a black woman, the inner city, motherhood, among others. My favorite poem by her is “come celebrate with me,” which I’ll leave a link to below. I think that’s a pretty good place to start with her poetry.

Blue Horses by Mary Oliver – Mary Oliver is my favorite poet. Her poetry features a lot of nature imagery, and it just exudes joy and wisdom. For me, it is very calming and uplifting to read.

Other Poetry books:

Incarnadine by Mary Szybist
Metaphysical Dog by Frank Bidart


Novels


Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes – Hands down my favorite book read in 2014! This story follows a man – Charlie – with a very low IQ who is scouted by scientists to participate in a research project. He, along with the lab rat Algernon, undergo brain surgery, and his IQ increases exponentially, making him become a genius. The novel is cleverly written in diary entries by Charlie, who has to document everything for the scientists. In this way, Keyes allows us to see Charlie’s intellectual development – from a man who writes run-sentences laden with spelling mistakes and who is unaware of his co-workers’ less-than-innocent teasing to a man who writes beautiful, poetic, and grammatically-correct prose and who understands mockery. In his diary entries, Charlie explores the effect the surgery has had on him and on other people, and how he even comes to be a little arrogant and feel contempt for those with lower IQs. And, as the story has it, how he feels when Algernon starts deteriorating. Poetic and arresting, Charlie’s story will make you think about your relationships and how you treat other people. This is a beautiful novel. 

The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe – I was looking for something weird and philosophical when I picked up this book, and it did not disappoint. A man who collects bugs one day decides he needs to get away. So, he takes a day off from work and goes to the desert to look for rare bugs – what’s more relaxing than that? However, his day trip goes awry when night falls and he meets a few villagers, who persuade him to go down the sand cliff and stay the night at a (THE) woman’s house. The catch: the villagers will never let him leave. Incredibly claustrophobic, the plot (however bare it may be) takes place within this small village in the dunes – mostly within and around the woman’s house. Further adding to the confined atmosphere is the all-permeating and invasive sand, which seeps into and eats away at the houses and sticks to the body like superglue. Destructive and pernicious, the sand poses a dangerous and immediate threat to the villagers, who every night must dig at the side of the sand cliff to deter an avalanche of sand that would drown the village. The main character is tormented, both by his unlawful detainment and by what he considers a meaningless existence; why live only to avoid death? Accordingly, this book follows his plots to escape and often meanders into long, philosophical tangents that are worth considering. A book that will make you think.

Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka – I read this around the same time as I read The Woman in the Dunes; so, I was still in the weird, philosophical mood. Gregor Samsa, a traveling businessman who is the sole provider for his parents and sister, one day wakes up to find himself turned into a cockroach. I read this as a satire of how sick people are treated. Gregor, the sick person, who, along with his family and co-workers, is slow to accept his state, even trying to make it to work as a giant cockroach! In a saddening but absurdly funny tale, we see how Gregor becomes isolated and dehumanized by his family and himself.


Other novels:
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffery Eugenides


Plays


King Lear by Shakespeare – An old, foolish man (the titular character) forgets the value of love and relationships and casts out his sincere and loving daughter, Cordelia, leaving his land and power to his selfish and deceitful daughters, Goneril and Regan, who cast him away after they are rewarded for their false speeches. Lear, now left with nothing, descends into madness, eventually becoming  “unaccommodated man” and reuniting with Cordelia. This was a powerful play that made me rethink the value of my relationships and also see death in a different light. As discussed in my Shakespeare class last semester, death can be a means to a fully realized life. I will elaborate more on this in a future post.

Twelfth Night by Shakespeare – In the holiday world of Illyria, Viola pretends to be a man and chaos from love and mistaken identity ensues. Hilarious and thought-provoking, this play made me consider how a lack of understanding of one’s own appetites can be detrimental to one’s personal growth. More to come on this as well.